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Red Flags: How to Recognise a Toxic Co-Parenting Relationship

Know the signs of abuse in co-parenting and find support to keep yourself and your child safe

Co-parenting with a toxic ex can be one of the most challenging experiences of your life. It's also a time when you can feel like you are going crazy! Where manipulation, failed efforts, guilt, shame, obligation, fear... a raft of emotions that went with your past relationship can be surfaced whilst you try your best to separate and parent well.

Unfortunately, co-parenting can create the opportunity for abuse from a toxic or abusive ex, which can be detrimental to both you and your child's well-being.

In this article, we'll explore what to look for and validate you that this is not healthy, if you are experiencing it. We will also provide links to strategies to protect yourself and your child.

11 ways co-parenting can be continued abuse, from a toxic ex.

  1. Refusing to follow the court-ordered (or agreed) parenting plan One of the most common ways a toxic ex can disrupt co-parenting is by refusing to follow the court-ordered parenting plan. This can include withholding your child during scheduled visitation time or not showing up to scheduled appointments. When a toxic ex disregards the court order or your previous agreement, it can create instability and uncertainty for both you and your child.

  2. Using the child as a pawn Another common tactic of a toxic / abusive ex is to use the child as a pawn to manipulate you. This can include refusing to allow the child to see you or threatening to withhold the child unless you meet certain demands. Using the child as a pawn can cause emotional harm to both you and your child and make co-parenting even more challenging.

  3. Disparaging you to the child A toxic / abusive ex may also try to turn the child against you by disparaging you to the child. This can include making negative comments about your parenting or character, or even lying to the child about you. Disparaging you to the child can create tension and conflict in your relationship with the child and make co-parenting even more challenging.

  4. Refusing to communicate Another way a toxic / abusive ex can disrupt co-parenting is by refusing to communicate with you. This can include ignoring your attempts to reach out or not responding to important messages. When a toxic ex refuses to communicate, it can make co-parenting difficult and create unnecessary conflict.

  5. Interfering with your parenting time A toxic / abusive ex may also interfere with your parenting time by showing up unannounced during scheduled visits or making it difficult for you to spend quality time with your child.

  6. Making false accusations A toxic / abusive ex may make false accusations about your parenting or behaviour to try and gain control over the co-parenting relationship. False accusations can be stressful and create unnecessary conflict, whilst continuing to get in the way for you to recover. At their worst they can impact on your work, access to children and friendships. It is important to get support from friends or services if this is happening to you, as situations can escalate.

  7. Refusing to pay child support Another way a toxic / abusive ex can disrupt co-parenting is by refusing to pay child support. This can cause financial strain and make it difficult to provide for your child's needs. Many parents experience financial control after leaving, through tactics such as this. It is important to lean on services (child maintenance services) and legal support when your rights are not met.

  8. Ignoring your boundaries They may ignore your boundaries and continue to engage in abusive behavior despite your attempts to create distance (such as love-bombing, insults, anger, blame etc). When a toxic / abusive ex ignores your boundaries, it can re-trigger old experiences from in the relationship and upset your recovery.

  9. Refusing to co-parent A toxic ex may refuse to communicate or cooperate with the other parent, making it impossible to effectively co-parent. This can lead to a breakdown in the relationship between the child and the other parent, and may require the intervention of a mediator or therapist. Avoid telling your child negative things about the other parent, and if they ask why they are not a priority for that parent try to give answers that don't attack their love for their absent parent... e.g. "at the moment, they are finding it hard to be a good Dad/Mum".

  10. Undermining the other parent's (your) authority A toxic ex may try to undermine the your authority and discipline by contradicting your rules in front of the child or spoiling the child when they are in their care. This can confuse and upset the child, and make it difficult for the other parent to maintain consistent discipline. Some parents talk about being made to be the bad cop whilst the toxic / abusive ex is the good cop - giving the child whatever they want even if not good for them (e.g. too many sweets, late bedtimes etc).

  11. Using the child as a messenger or spy A toxic ex may try to use the child as a messenger to deliver messages or gather information about the other parent's life. This puts the child in the middle of the conflict and creates an unhealthy dynamic.

In conclusion, co-parenting with a toxic ex can be challenging, but it's essential to prioritise your and your child's well-being.

Recognising the ways a toxic ex can disrupt co-parenting is the first step. Realising you are not crazy. Once you are clear that this situation is wrong for you and your child(ten) read on, as we've provided suggestions on how to manage the situation here.


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